When I was in middle school I can remember reading George Orwell's 1984. At the time, the book seemed far fetched, with the whole idea that "Big Brother" was watching you at all times. Star Trek seemed to be more comfortable with the idea, as video could be extracted from any place at any time, absent seemingly of cameras and the like, although there didn't seem to be this overbearing sense that people's personal freedoms were violated. Even Star Trek graduated in this however, when the pins on their uniform became communcators, and anyone could be found at any time-- but again, no effort was placed on tracking a person's everyday movements unless it pertained specifically to the mission.
Years have passed since the writing of George Orwell's book, and 1984 itself has come and gone-- in fact it was the year I graduated high school, with, at the time, no real press towards a Big Brother society. But along came the late 90's and the internet, social media, and google, and I have to say, that although Orwell was wrong about the year, conceptually he was right in that your movements are able to be tracked. I don't mean to be sensationalist about this, but here are the facts:
- Your cell phone has a GPS in it that can identify your whereabouts with reasonable accuracy. Smartphones already tag most photographs you take automatically with GPS information and sometimes address information so you can see exactly where and when a photograph or video has been taken. One of the guys from Mythbusters, Jamie Heineman made the mistake of posting one of these pictures to the web in the last year and people were able to find exactly where he lived by the information stored in the picture file.
- Every time you use your credit card, there is a record of where you have been.
- Most big box stores have video cameras that track your whereabouts in the store, and many have cameras in the parking lot as well.
- Many interstates in larger cities like Atlanta have cameras all the way down the interestate to monitor traffic, not to mention the red light cameras that track every vehicle going through an intersection.
- Facebook also has a "check-in" feature as do other social networking sites, that sense your location with the GPS and give you the opportunity to report your whereabouts at any given time. Facebook has already started to use facial recognition technology to automatically tag people. This technology will only get better, and eventually it will be able to identify you immediately once the photograph, video or the like (hologram, someday?) is shot.
- Your IP address is kind of like a "phone number" on the internet. An IP address is assigned to your DSL Modem, Cable Modem, or the like and this number can be used to trace/track everything you do on the internet. IP addresses are also assigned to your cell phone when you surf the web.
- Your car, if newer may have a GPS tracking feature built into it, particularly those with OnStar or the like.
- And Google, perhaps the biggest offender of privacy, tracks every search you make, specific to your gmail account, if you are logged in, and uses this search history for its own purposes. On top of that, with their "Streetview" feature, Google has sought to LITERALLY photograph the ENTIRE WORLD so that it can give you an actual 360 degree view of any roadway in the world. Their trucks/cars are photographing the world now, as we speak.
And these are just the things I can think of, off the top of my head. Now I don't say this to cause a stir, or a panic. These are just facts, and they've entered our society rather quietly, so quietly in fact that many don't know that their privacy is no longer. When I was in high school, if I got in my car or went to the store, it would be difficult to find me if someone wanted. This is no longer the case. It's not video tape of exactly what you're doing like in Star Trek, but it's also not far from that. I can hear the objections already, "but John, if you've got nothing to hide then who cares?" That's true, assuming that the person tracking you has good intentions, like in Star Trek. These devices were used to help people, not to track their every move for their own unknown purposes.
So now that you've been educated on all of this, what should you do about it? Well, that depends on you. But know these things:
1) I read something a few weeks back that bears saying, with respect to Google, Facebook, and the like. YOU ARE NOT THEIR CLIENT. Google's purpose is not simply to provide the best search possible. Facebook does not give you a profile just because they're "nice." Google and Facebook both have clients, you're just not one. Their advertisers are their clients, and let's be clear: these are for profit companies, that would cease to exist without money. They are in the business to make money, and their advertisers are their clients. Your information can and will be used to satisfy the need to make money. More specifically, your personal information will be leveraged to bring them the next dollar. So know this, it's true. Every time you search Google, whether you are logged into your google/gmail account or not, they are tracking your IP address and know what you search. Their intent is to make money, and not necessarily to make the world a better place.
Many of you may be thinking, "John, what do you do?"
Here are my strategies for protecting my privacy online and in life:
- I don't ever give out my bank number to anyone.
- I do not do online banking. If someone is smart enough to encrypt something, someone else is smart enough to decrypt it. There have been too many banks who have been hacked for you to believe your information and money is safe like that, so I don't do online banking.
- You won't find my social security number or any of my businesses tax numbers stored anywhere on any of our computers. Anything I store on my computer, I assume is public information and is at risk.
- I make sure that I stay logged out of my gmail/google account at all times. This keeps my history from being recorded site by site (not that I have anything to hide, but where I go is my business, not theirs). You also have to know that Google manipulates search engine results based on this search if you are logged in as well, so I stay logged out of my account so my search engine results are not manipulated.
- Know that I do check-in from time to time on Facebook. Normally, this is not so much because I want to alert someone to my presence so much as it is for the benefit of the business or organization I'm attending. They get free press when I check in.
- I do turn off, from time to time the location feature on my phone so that it's not automatically tagging my photos. Sometimes I think it's more of value to have it, so I probably leave it on more than not.
Mostly folks, I'm aware... yah, Big Brother has become a part of our society, and I have to live with it. I can no longer take a drive in complete obscurity. Some of that is good. Some of that is not so good, but at the very least, I understand it, know it and am aware of it, and I am aware that every shred of my personal information can be used to leverage someone else's business gain.
"Be Excellent to Each Other." -"Ted" Theodore Preston, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
*** Added in a comment by my friend Steven Sandler, who is also an I.T. Professional and has forgotten more about internet security than I'll ever know...
Steven Sandler There is something more: While Google was driving down all those neighborhood streets, they were allegedly sniffing for WI-FI packets and recording network IDs. I'm no expert on this, but in-theory, that network ID could be detected by Google while you are browsing. Google could therefore determine your identity by cross-referencing that ID with the house address, also recorded during the drive-by.